Sometimes the key moments in big political interviews come in the asides. Politicians rehearse their answers to the obvious questions (or their non-answers to the obvious questions), and that is one reason why modern interviews are often more tedious than ones conducted in the days before the term soundbite was invented (a point the New Statesman’s Harry Lambert makes very effectively here). But asides are (generally) unrehearsed, and there were two in this interview that stood out: “Who’s Lorraine?” (see 9.21am); and, more seriously, the moment when Boris Johnson responded to a story about a pensioner being so poor she has to spend the day on buses using her freedom pass to avoid needing to turn on the heating at home by going on about introducing the freedom pass when he was London mayor. Labour accuse him of being out of touch with the experience of people’s lives; this tone-deaf boast made their point for them.
Dave Hill, who runs the OnLondon website, says that as well as being insensitive, Johnson was also wrong.
There was a substantial takeaway in the interview too. It is normally assumed that Johnson is always keen to increase government spending, and only restrained by the more fiscally disciplined chancellor, Rishi Sunak. But in his comments on inflation, Johnson implied that the Treasury has won this argument.
Here are the main points from the interview.
- Johnson signalled that he was opposed to using benefit rises to help people with the cost of living because it could be inflationary. There was a risk of an “inflationary spiral”, he said. When Susanna Reid put it to him that inflation coud reach 10%, he replied “Correct”. But he appeared to rule out bringing forward benefit increases to help. He said:
We have a short term hit caused by the spike in energy prices across the world. If we respond by driving up prices and costs across the board in this country, responding by the government stepping in and driving up inflation, that will hit everybody and that will mean that people’s interest rates on their mortgages go up, the cost of borrowing goes up, and we face an even worse problem …
I’m sorry to say this, but we have to be prudent in our approach. We have to help people like Elsie, like the families you mentioned, in the short term with huge sums of taxpayers’ cash, through local councils or through the all the schemes that we’re we’re doing. But the best answer is to have a strong economy and where we keep interest rates as low as is reasonable.
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow work and pensions secretary, says this could be a hint that the government will for a second time abandon the triple lock, which is supposed to guarantee that pensions go up every year in line with earnings or inflation or by 2.5%, whichever is higher.
- Johnson failed to offer the prospect of any immediate, extra help for people struggling to pay their bills now. He said in general terms that there was “more that we can do”, but did not give details. His most awkward moment in the interview came when asked what advice he had for Elsie, a 77-year-old widow who’s monthly energy bills have gone up from £15 to £85. Johnson summed up the measures already taken by the government to help. Asked what Elsie should cut back on, Johnson said he did not want her to cut back on anything. But he did not float the prospect of further help with bills this year, and he said that what was important was to invest in energy now so that supply is secure for the medium and long term. Rather crassly, when told the Elsie spent her day using her freedom pass to travel on buses, to reduce the amount she has to spend on energy at home, Johnson said that as London mayor he introduced the 24-hour freedom pass. Reid asked if he thought that Elsie should be “grateful”.
- Johnson said he was opposed to a windfall tax on energy companies (Labour’s policy) because it would discourage investment. He said:
If you put a windfall tax on the energy companies, what that means is that you discourage them from making the investments that we want to see that will, in the end, keep energy price prices lower for everybody.
- He admitted that he did not know the amount by which carer’s allowance is rising this year.
- He insisted that global factors were to blame for the rise in prices. “The cost of chickens is crazy,” he said, in a reference to food prices.
- He said that he had “no idea” whether her would face further fines over Partygate. Asked why he had not resigned, as other people have for breaking lockdown rules, he replied:
I’m getting on with the job that I was elected to do and discharge the mandate that I was given, and I’m proud of what we have been doing.
- He insisted that he was “honest”. Referring to claims he misled MPs about Partygate, he said:
If you are talking about the statements I’ve made in the House of Commons, I was inadvertently … I was wrong and I’ve apologised for that.
- He admitted the UK could be giving visas to Ukrainian refugees more quickly. He said:
We have done a huge amount to help Ukrainian women and children in the area but we’re now seeing large numbers come to the UK.
So far 86,000 visas have been issued and 27,000 are already here and I want to say ‘thank you’ – 27,000 is a lot and it’s growing fast and I want to pay tribute to all those who are helping to look after Ukrainians.
Could we have done it faster? Yes, perhaps we could.
Boris Johnson’s very final comment in his Good Morning Britain interview provided one of its most memorable takeaways. He implied he did not know who Lorraine Kelly was. (See 9am.)
It is not the worse thing a prime minister can say, but commentators, and opposition politicians, think it was a mistake.
This is from the i’s Paul Waugh.
This is from the Daily Mirror’s Pippa Crerar.
This is from Labour’s Chris Bryant.
And this is from the Independent’s Tom Peck (who suggests it was all an act by Johnson anyway).
In 2019 Johnson said in an interview that he did not know who the BBC presenter Naga Munchetty was, even though she had at the time been headline news for a comment about Donald Trump.
A full summary and analysis of the Johnson interview is coming up shortly.
Reid says the government cut the number of police officers and nurses in the first place.
Johnson says he was mayor of London at the time.
Reid says it was the same government.
She says they have to end the programme. She says “Lorraine” is waiting. (That’s Lorraine Kelly, who presents the next show on ITV.)
“Who’s Lorraine?”, Johnson asks.
And that’s it.
I will post a summary soon.
Q: We know you have broken the law. You are being investigated for lying to parliament. This is the most fined building in Britain for breaches of lockdown. rules. Why did you not follow the law?
Johnson says he has to wait until the end of the police investigation for commenting.
Q: Have you had a second fine?
No, says Johnson. But he says No 10 will say if that happens.
Q: Do you expect to be fined again?
“I have no idea,” says Johnson.
Q: Other people have resigned over this. Why haven’t you?
Johnson says he is getting on with the job he was given.
He says he said he would get Brexit done, he did. He said he would hire more police officers and nurses; he is on track with that, he says.
Johnson claims that the government is cutting national insurance.
Reid points out that this cut only came after an even bigger increase.
Johnson says changes to the universal credit taper rate gave people an extra £1,000.
Reid says the government cut that money in the first place.
Johnson argues that, if benefits were to rise by more, there would be an inflationary risk. That would lead to interest rates rising, he says. There would then be a risk of an “inflationary spiral”, he says.
Reid asks Johnson if he knows by how much the carer’s allowance went up.
Johnson does not, but he says he expects it was not by much.
Reid says it was £69.70. It has risen by just over £2.
Johnson says putting a windfall tax on energy companies would cut investment.
Reid quotes from a pensioner, Elsie, who says her energy bill has gone from £15 a month to £85 a month. She is now only having a meal once a day. And she says she uses her freedom pass to spend the day on the bus, so she does not have to pay for heating.
Johnson says as London mayor he introduced the freedom pass.
Reid asks if he is saying the viewer should be grateful.
Johnson swiftly moves on. He says she may qualify for help with heating.
Q: What else should Elsie cut back on?
Johnson says he does not want her to cut back on anything. He wants to cut the price of energy, he says.
Johnson says it is “insane” that the the UK has to import electricity from France.
Q: Why not have a windfall tax on energy companies?
Johnson summarises some of the measures already taken to help consumers.
There is more that the government can do, he admits.
But he says the priority is to deal with the problem in the medium to long term.
Q: So you are not doing everything you can now.
Johnson says the government’s £9bn plan is bigger than any rival plan he has seen (ie, bigger than Labour’s windfall tax plan).
Q: The biggest issue for people is the cost of living, not Ukraine. Are you in touch with what people are experiencing? Prices are rising, food bank use is rising, poverty is rising.
Johnson says the government is doing “everything we can” to help with the pressures on family budgets.
But he says it is important to see the global context.
The rise in the price of chicken is “crazy”, he says.